A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this theatrical version of the Nutcracker ballet hints at an attraction between Clara and her godfather. A teensy bit creepy perhaps, but it serves to create some interesting tension that will go over most kids' heads.
What's the story?
A Christmas party is at hand and a master craftsman is at work in his studio making toys for the children. When the eve of the big party arrives, Clara and her brother Fritz are enjoying the festivities with their friends and family when the craftsman, Herr Drosselmeier, arrives with a bag full of toys, including a doll house with two dancing dolls inside for his favorite goddaughter, Clara. She, however, prefers the Nutcracker which falls from the Christmas tree, into her arms. After naughty Fritz breaks the Nutcracker, Clara visits it at midnight to witness an army of mice come to life and engage in battle with the Nutcracker and his army. Clara follows the Nutcracker on a journey where they meet many characters who fascinate them with their dances.
Is it any good?
With gorgeous sets designed by the legendary Maurice Sendak, this version of the Nutcracker ballet uses the film media very nicely. There is a surreal quality to the story which does not always come across on stage. Dream sequences -- dreams within dreams -- and journeys through time and space unfold, lotus-like, as the story progresses. Though there is no dialogue in the ballet, this movie employs an older Clara narrating her experiences at Christmas, while mentioning her complicated feelings for her godfather, Herr Drosselmeier (Hugh Bigney), who cannot tear himself away from young Clara (Vanessa Sharp). This characterization of a man who seethes with jealousy when Clara dances with the Nutcracker brings a different dynamic to the classic Christmas tale.
Clara morphs into a woman as she follows the Nutcracker through the folds of Drosselmeier's gigantic cloak. Here, Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy are interchangeable. Moreover, the narrator speaks of the Nutcracker "only having eyes" for her as they danced the night away. Young viewers might not catch on to the subtext, but adults certainly will. Meanwhile, the dancing, the music, the costumes and the sets are stunning. A good choice for more mature viewers and fans of Sendak's magical artistic contribution.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Christmas has changed since Clara's time. The adults at the party dress and dance formally, while the children are expected to behave properly. How have Christmas celebrations changed?
When Herr Dosselmeier stares at Clara and tries to dance with her, Clara gets nervous. What would you do if you were Clara? Would you tell your parents that a family friend was making you feel uncomfortable?
How does this version of the Nutcracker differ from others that you may have seen? Do you like the changes? Or do you prefer the original? How does the experience of the Nutcracker change from stage to film?
- In theaters: December 5, 1986
- On DVD or streaming: December 5, 2008
- Cast: Hugh Bigney, Patricia Barker, Vanessa Sharp
- Director: Caroll Ballard
- Studio: MGM/UA
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Arts and Dance, Holidays
- Run time: 85 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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